Living Well: Addressing the opioid issue: MRH launches pain management program to combat problem |

Living Well: Addressing the opioid issue: MRH launches pain management program to combat problem

Memorial Regional Health staff/For Craig Press

The national concerns about opioid overuse and addiction have reached Craig, and local health care providers want to do something positive about it. Their goal is to help people who suffer from chronic pain create a workable plan to ease their pain. That's why skilled nurses at Memorial Regional Health's Medical Clinic are starting a program to reach out to patients who suffer from chronic pain.

"Our overall goal is to help patients with their pain and to identify some alternative methods to help them cope and manage their pain more adequately. Our goal is to provide support and understanding, not target patients or providers," said Sarah Vreeman, RN, behavioral health pain manager with the MRH Medical Clinic.

If someone must use pain medication for more than three months, he or she is considered to have chronic pain. Vreeman plans to reach out to all patients who have chronic pain in the near future to offer help. With chronic pain often comes anxiety and stress, caused by pain and, sometimes, an inability to sleep well.

"What's fascinating about pain is that the receptors in the brain that transmit stress, anxiety and pain are all closely related, so it can be hard to differentiate between them," said Michele Lewis, RN, MSN, CPHQ, provider practice office manager for the MRH Medical Clinic.

The new pain management program will help patients tease out if there are any behavioral health concerns at play. By managing behavioral health, sometimes pain can be reduced.

"Not all chronic pain patients have behavioral health issues, but some do, and pain medication can mask what's going on in the background," Lewis said.

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The goal isn't to get patients off opioids completely. The goal is to lower the dose or need for opioids by introducing alternatives, such as massage, relaxation and possibly other medications. Sometimes, people don't even know they are addicted to pain medications, because when they take them over time, their bodies gets used to them and build tolerance. When that happens, a person needs more and more medication to achieve results. Without intending to, this can lead to addiction.

"With the opioid addiction epidemic, some providers across the nation have opted to simply cut their patients off from pain medication. But that's not the answer. More often than not, the patient, out of desperation to control their pain, will find a new provider to prescribe the medication or switch to street drugs, because they can be easier to get. That's when the addiction really sets in," Lewis said.

The first step in setting up the pain management program is to identify patients with chronic pain and begin meeting with them. Next, the hope is to find workable solutions to reduce their opioid use and find new ways to manage pain. If needed, a behavioral health consultation will be completed to see if stress, anxiety or depression are adding to the chronic pain. In addition, patients will be asked to sign an agreement to get medications from one provider and one pharmacist — and if they run into problems they will talk with their provider.

"It's not our intention to target patients and call them out. Our intention is to spend time with the patient, learn their situation and help them reduce their use of pain medications, and, ultimately, improve their quality of life," Vreeman said.

To learn more about MRH's pain management program, contact Vreeman at 970-826-8064.